Review – Incredibles 2 (2018)
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Sowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sophia Bush, Jonathan Banks, Brad Bird
In contemporary Hollywood, fourteen years is an eternity to wait for a sequel. We are used to the sequel being in the works often before the first film is even released. While there had always been audience desire for a sequel to The Incredibles – a high point even by Pixar’s lofty standards – the animation studio and writer-director Brad Bird made us wait for another adventure from the Parr family. But fans can rest assured that it has been worth the wait.
Rather than reflecting the fourteen years that have passed between films in the story world, Incredibles 2 picks up immediately where the first one left off, with the Parr family suiting up to tackle the Underminer (Pixar talisman John Ratzenberger). But when things don’t quite go to plan ‘supers’ once again find themselves out of favour with a government that sees them as more trouble than they are worth. As they resign themselves to a return to an ordinary life Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter), aka Mr Incredible and Elastigirl, along with their friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson), are contacted by tech mogul Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) with a proposal to help get society back on the supers’ side. Deavor believes that supers have a simple perception issue, with people only seeing the collapsed buildings, destroyed cityscapes and expensive repairs, rather than their selfless decisions and heroic actions. Working with his inventor sister Eveyn (Catherine Keener), Deavor wants to broadcast footage from video cameras built into their super suits to give the public a greater appreciation for what the supers do for them. He determines that PR-wise Elastigirl should be the focus of this plan, which leaves Mr Incredible at home to look after Violet (Sarah Sowell), Dash (Huck Milner) and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile).
When The Incredibles was released in 2004, the superhero movie was not as ubiquitous as it is today. We were still a year away from Batman Begins kicking off Christopher Nolan’s game-changing Dark Knight Trilogy, and four years away from the commencement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As such, while The Incredibles played with the concept of the superhero, its reference points and influences came more from the realm of James Bond and the spy genre – Brad Bird is open about the fact that he was not really a comic book guy. Fast forward fourteen years and while there are now an abundance of superhero movie tropes and conventions for Incredibles 2 to play with, Bird has stuck to his guns. Incredibles 2 looks more to the likes of The Manchurian Candidate than The Avengers for its influences. This means that, even aside from the animation, this superhero film feels quite tonally distinct from what is going on in the blockbuster world of Marvel and DC.
Once again, Incredibles 2 is focused on exploring the domestic and familial life of the superhero, though this time with an added layer of gender commentary in the form of a reversal of roles which sees Helen as the one who continues to be super while Bob is consigned to the ordinary life. Where Bob’s continued hero work in the first film was self-motivated, driven by ego and an unwillingness to let go of that lifestyle, Helen’s here is supported by her family and motivated by a desire to do what is best for them in the hope of creating a world where her kids are allowed to be super. While she finds fulfilment in the work, she also struggles with stepping away and entrusting familial responsibilities to Bob. Simultaneously, we watch Bob struggle initially with the idea that it is not his role to lead, and then with the practical challenges of being a stay-at-home dad, dealing with both the ordinary challenges of parenthood (helping Dash with his homework, watching Violet deal with boy troubles) as well as the extraordinary circumstances which come from having super-powered children (the emergence of Jack-Jack’s powers). While the there are plenty of laughs drawn particularly from his situation, in both cases it is a surprisingly insightful portrayal of the breaking down of traditional domestic gender roles.
While the character dynamics are strong, Incredibles 2 also functions effectively as a superhero film. Brad Bird previously directed Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, the film which really revitalised that franchise, so obviously has an eye for action spectacle and it shows in the impressive set pieces here. One in the middle of the film, where Elastigirl first comes face to face with the film’s key villain, Screenslaver, is particularly menacing (its use of strobing lights has also required the film to carry a warning for audiences). It was one of the great strengths of the first film, and continues to be the case here, that it does not pander to being a kids film by shying away from legitimate menace. It is almost confronting when you notice that the villains and police alike in the Incredibles films carry and fire guns, something you just don’t tend to see in Hollywood animation.
The cast step effortlessly back into their old characters, though while the freedom of animation allows for a direct continuation of the story without having to worry about actors ageing, there are moments when the voices of Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, who are now 74 and 60 respectively, do sound a bit older than their characters look. The direct continuation does mean that we get to remain in the early 1960s aesthetic of the first film, with Michael Giacchino’s jazz infused score still sitting beautifully in this space.
While it naturally lacks some of the surprise and freshness of the beloved original, Incredibles 2 is a deserving continuation, maintaining the quality, tone, humour (the encounter between Jack-Jack and a raccoon in which the extent of his powers are first revealed is a highlight) and humanity which made the first film such a standout.
As is tradition with Pixar releases, Incredibles 2 is accompanied by a short film (this is really the only avenue through which mainstream audiences are exposed to short filmmaking. Bravo Pixar). Domee Shi’s Bao tells the touching story of a Chinese-Canadian woman who gets a second chance at motherhood when one of her handmade dumplings comes to life.
Review by Duncan McLean
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